Lean Thinking originated as a conceptualisation of a proven management system with excellent results: the Toyota Production System (TPS).
Its origins lie in manufacturing but today it is successfully applied to all operational processes: product design and development, logistics and administration.
Between 1800 and 1910, the production system was organised according to the typical logic of handicrafts: characterised by low production volumes, a high variety of one-off products, a low division of labour and coordination, and the absence of any form of automation.
Between 1910 and 1950, a new form of capitalism emerged as a result of the concentration of industrial and financial capital in large companies, meeting the need for large investments in machinery and plant.
In these large industrial enterprises, mass and large-scale production known as Fordism began to spread. Henry Ford was inspired by the theories of Frederick Taylor, the application of the principles of the “scientific organisation of labour”, of a very strong division of labour based on the analysis of time and methods and a strong recourse to automation, and introduced the assembly line for the production of the Ford T-model, thus achieving a highly standardised mass production with a considerable reduction in production time. Mass production is characterised by strong vertical integration and centralisation of decisions and an orientation towards the production of high quantities with a high standardisation level: the focus is not on the flow of material or product but on the production of the largest possible quantity. The disconnection of production processes causes stocks of semi-finished products to grow considerably. Production is not planned based on market demand, and finished products are pushed through the sales network anyway (push production).
The model developed by Ford was the inspiration for the production system adopted by Toyota in the 1940s, which refined it to meet the need for production flexibility and lower infrastructure availability.
Under the leadership of chief engineer Taichii Ohono, Toyota developed the TPS (Toyota Production System), a production system guided by the principles of waste avoidance and continuous improvement, characterised by limited and flexible automation, multi-functionality of operators and network integration.